Lent 3 – February 27/28, 2016 – Luke 11:14-28
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
So there He is – Christ Jesus the Lord, and He casts out a demon that is mute. And the demon is gone, the fellow can talk. Should be the end of the story, right? I mean, what is there to complain about? And yet what do we hear in our text this evening/morning? “But some of them said, 'He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,' while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.” So folks, you ever had a day where you feel under appreciated? Where you've done good work and no one notices? How about this – Jesus casts out a demon, and people gripe. Meh, You're probably just in league with Satan! Meh, we wanted a cooler, more spectacular sign from heaven. How's that for lousy? And yet, Jesus knows what's really going on. Folks are just making excuses – and so Jesus is going to go on the offensive today – He's going to fight our excuses and tell us what's really going on.
First, the excuses at hand. “But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?'” Alright – point one. You realize your argument is basically that, all of a sudden, Satan's become stupid. That Satan has become a blithering idiot fighting against himself. Really? That's your argument, really? Actually, your argument is even worse than that. “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.” A few chapters earlier in Luke, the disciples sort of freaked out because they saw just random Jewish folks casting out demons in Jesus' name. So, you want to accuse them? I mean, it's one thing if you don't like me, but if you are going to say that I'm in league with the Devil, and your sons are using my name, you're really saying your kids are in league with the Devil. You sure you want to go there? What Jesus is doing here is just picking apart their silly gripes. But then He gets to the heart of the matter.
“But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” You guys want a sign from heaven? Do you know what is going on – God is here. One of the Church Fathers, I can't remember which, would like to refer to Jesus and the Spirit as the hands of God – the way in which the Father accomplishes stuff. How does God create – by the Word. How does God give life – by the Spirit, breathing the breath of life into Adam's nostrils, or by the Spirit calling, gathering, and enlightening the whole Christian Church. So Jesus is declaring to these folks, “quit dancing around it and admit it – God is at work here.”
But so why don't they like this fact? Why don't they like it when God is here? Why do they grouse, why do they want some distant sign off in heaven rather than something up close and personal? Well, because when Jesus comes, it's not a gentle thing. Being as I'm back in Illinois, I remember my old grade school description of what March is supposed to be – in like a lion, out like a lamb. Well, before Jesus goes quietly to His death and is silent like a sheep before its shearers, Jesus comes in like the Lion of Judah, busting everything up. Or, as Jesus puts it, He comes as the Stronger Man. Listen: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Let me tell you what is going on folks. So there was Satan, who had conquered this world, tempted Adam, and Satan's sitting there all smug, thinking he rules the roost. Well, I, Jesus, am the the stronger man, and I kick his miserable backside all over the place – I tell the man made mute by a demon to speak and well, as the Psalm goes, O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise. Because that demon possessed man, he is one I want, he is one I've come to save. And here you folks are grumbling and complaining – and you know why? Because in your smug, sinful pride, you thought you were perfectly fine and good and decent, and here I come, and I poke holes in your own pride, I shatter the excuses in which you trusted. This all freaks you out because “Whoever is not with me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
Sort of blunt, isn't it – but I want to note something here for you to just keep in your back pocket until later – whoever does not “gather” - in Greek that is “synagogue” - it's the same word. So just have in the back of your mind synagoguing with Jesus, churching with Jesus. But at the moment, Jesus goes on to more fully explain what's going on, how these “nice, pious” people could end up basically cheering for Satan. Jesus says to them, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of the person is worse than the first.'” Alright grumblers, here's what's going on with you. God has worked mighty things in your life – rescued you and your fathers over and over and over. Yet Satan and his minions are still active, and they aren't dumb – and they come back to tempt you again, to attack you again. And what do they find? You welcome them, and you become even worse – because now you're open to all sort of wickedness, because after all, you think you've got your house in order, you think everything's just fine the way it is.
Think about it, my dear friends. There was a demon that was messing with a fellow, made him mute. That's pretty bad. But which is a worse state? I mean, Jesus comes and rescues the mute man, and he rejoices – but these excuse-makers? Oh, they can talk, but a fat lot of good it does them! In fact, they are much more wicked, they are much more worse off than that poor mute guy was. Sure, he had a demon, but at least he wasn't talking trash to Jesus and blowing smoke up his skirt. And so Jesus is looking at these grumblers, seeing their thoughts, and He says to them, “You folks are worse off than than demon possessed guy was – and it's because you make excuses, you don't want to be rescued, you don't think you need any rescue. In fact, you fight and claw to stay in Satan's kingdom when I come to rescue you and bring you to My kingdom.”
And as Jesus is speaking these things, a gal in the crowd pipes up and says, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts at which You nursed!” That is a Jewish way of giving a compliment – it's sort of saying, “boy, you must make your momma proud – she must be one classy dame to have given birth to you.” However, Jesus is One to always put us back on the proper focus. He says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” And there's something neat here – when a strong man, fully armed, “guards” his own palace... blessed are those who hear the Word of God and... it's the same word used for “guards”. So – we have a great contrast here between Christ on the one hand and upon Satan and his demons and even the gripers on the other. And there is conflict, there is fight there – and this is something that you are part of – you are thrust right into the middle of this – for Satan does not go quietly, and Satan wants to snatch you away from Christ. How does Jesus protect you from this? He synagoues – He churches with you. He waters and fills you. He gives you His Word.
This is where the text is really, really neat, where it really goes into the life of the Church as we gather together as God's Baptized around His Word and Sacraments. Listen again - “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather (synagogue) with Me scatters.” What is the point of this place, this house? God Himself is present, Jesus is here, here to be Immanuel, God with us. We are not scattered to the four winds, but rather we are called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified here together. This is church talk, this is being gathered around Christ and His Word. And by what reason, by what right are we gathered here? Is it by virtue of our great moral character, or our innate righteousness? Is that our entrance into this place? Nope – you do belong here, but the proof that you belong here – is there, at the font, at your baptism. Hear again what Jesus says of the unclean spirit - “it passes through waterless places.” You, my dear friends, are not a waterless place. You are baptized, you are full of water, springs of living water well up within you because Christ Jesus has given you life. And when satan's minions come to you, they do not find you empty. You are with Christ – indeed, you are filled with Christ – you are sopping wet with Christ in your baptism, you are filled with Christ's own Body and Blood. He prepares a feast for you in spite of Satan, your enemy. His cup, given and shed for you, overfloweth. This is who you are – this is the reality we see and find and experience here in God's House.
And thus the call. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” What happens when you hear God's Word here? Well, let's do a bit more Catechism review – What is the 3rd Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by KEEPING it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Do you see how that works? As Christians we are to hear the Word, we are to treat it as valuable and continually pay attention to it – we are to protect and safeguard this time in the Word. Because it is in hearing the Word of God, in hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus, in hearing of His battle against Satan, His victory by His death upon the Cross and His Resurrection, that Satan is defeated in our lives. The Word of God gives to us what it says, what it proclaims – and so when the Word of God proclaims Christ’s victory and forgiveness, it drives Satan away from us and forgives us our sins. It returns us to the very truth and reality of our Baptism. Indeed, with the Word of God there is always the Holy Spirit – wherever the Word of God is being proclaimed, there the Holy Spirit is – and when the Word of God enters through your ears, the Holy Spirit enters there as well. And what does that mean? It means you are not left like that empty house, simply waiting to be consumed by wickedness – it means that you are a filled house, filled by God – indeed that you are God’s own temple. Do you see how this works? You hear the Word of God which cuts across your excuses and casts them down. You hear the Word of God which pricks your conscience and brings you to confess your sins. And then most wonderfully, you hear the Word of God which brings you Christ Jesus and gives the life and salvation He gives to you. You are full, you are safe, you are rescued from Satan’s Kingdom and you are in the Kingdom of Christ.
And so dear friends, be on the look out for the appealing excuses to avoid the Word of God that Satan will throw your way – for the old evil foe knows that while he is stronger than you and can over power you, he cannot overpower Christ and His Word. And Christ Jesus, in His love for you, will continue to bring you His Word, and He will pull your eyes off of your excuses and make you to see and remember His love for you again and again. This is the Victory Christ Jesus wins for you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +